KATHMANDU: The construction of a new runway at Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa has been completed and the project officials said that the country’s second international airport might come into operation by the first week of January.

The delay-plagued national pride project has achieved 73 percent physical progress with the completion of the 3,000-metre long and 45-metre wide asphalt paved runway. Project officials said that work on the taxiway was at the final stage of completion.

The airport is envisaged to serve the fast-rising business and industrial hub of Bhairahawa and facilitate international pilgrimage to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. The civil works contract worth Rs6.22 billion was awarded to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013. The airport was initially slated to be ready by December 2017.

“Runways, aprons and taxiways are the heart of an airport,” said Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, the project execution body. “We will now expedite the construction of the terminal building.”

Gautam said the project had been slowed down by a series of obstacles. If there are no more hindrances, the airport will be ready for commercial operation by January next year.”

Recently, construction work on the airport hit a snag after local authorities demanded a higher price for riverbed materials than that agreed upon. Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City refused to provide gravel and sand at the old rate which caused the project to lose some time. The city government relented following mounting public criticism.

According to Gautam, the second package of the project, which is installment of Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (ANS) and Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems, would be completed by November.

It will take at least three months to test and calibrate the system after it is installed. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has awarded a $4.83 million contract to install communications, navigation and surveillance and air traffic management systems at the airport to Aeronautical Radio of Thailand.

The project is also preparing to build a new international terminal following concerns that the previously designed building, which is nearing completion, may not be large enough to accommodate forecasted passenger traffic growth. Project officials said that the proposed new terminal building would have a floor area of 35,000 square metres, nearly as large as the terminal at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport.

The originally planned 15,000-square-metre terminal will be repurposed for domestic flights. The plan to construct a new terminal building and parking bays follows the Finance Ministry’s concern that the currently designed facilities will be insufficient to handle future travel demand.